Here in Mark 10:35-45, we get to catch a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is like in a negative sense. Jesus takes the time to explain to his bumbling companions how unlike a man-run world God’s kingdom is.
At the beginning of this passage, Jesus is approached by James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They pose a seemingly innocent request with huge implications. They ask Jesus to save them a seat in God’s kingdom on his right and his left for them. This seems a little audacious to me as well as to the other disciples when they heard this in verse 41. Jesus, however, receives their request gracefully as a parent receives the request of a 5 year old to drive the family car. He acknowledges their ignorance and says “you don’t know what you’re asking. Are you willing to do what I have to do?” Now, Jesus knew what “cup” it was he was going to have to drink and that it would be supernaturally difficult, but the brothers had no idea, so naturally, they emphatically said “yes!” Jesus seems to consider here in verse 39 because he then says “you will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering.” I’m guessing he is referring to the persecution they would endure after his resurrection and ascension. Finally, Jesus explains that in the Kingdom of God, it is to be different. That, if one wants to be the first among his brothers, he must assume the role of a servant because that is actually what Jesus did when he came to earth. I think all Christians will agree that Jesus is, in every way, number one in God’s kingdom and he did in fact do the most slavish thing: death for the sins of the unworthy world.
This passage is important to Christian discipleship because it is the core of how Christians are to interact with our world. With non-believers, we are called upon to be servants to people who don’t deserve it and probably won’t acknowledge the sacrifice we might have to make for their benefit. It is our job to become servants in this physical life and by doing such, become greater in the Kingdom of God. This passage also speaks on how we are to interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus knew the other disciples were indignant because of James and John’s request so he acted quickly to cut off any dissention among his followers. He shows them that the goal isn’t to become the greatest by men’s standard, but to strive to be greater by God’s standard by way of becoming lowly by men’s standard. He basically says that it’s not worth arguing and fighting among yourselves for the top spot because the only way you’ll get that top spot is by assuming the lowest spot in your day to day lives.
While this seems absolutely against our nature, Jesus’ lesson here applies directly to our lives. So many times we want to out-shine others at our work places, schools and in our social arenas by making ourselves look better; by trying to take that “right hand seat”. Nevertheless, Jesus says that if you really want to be great in the eyes of the one person that ultimately matters, you have got to put yourself last in your social life. Servant-hood is not something that comes naturally to humans. We are hard wired for survival and getting an edge on everyone around us. Even the most passive people I know have some facet of their life that they are secretly competitive in. It’s in our human, sin-nature. But God calls his followers to act in their new, redeemed nature and let go of our fleshly yearning for glory and instead submit ourselves to others in order to gain true glory through being more like Jesus.
My initial reaction to this passage was indignation along with the other disciples, but the more I mulled it over, the more I identified areas in my life that I try to outshine others for selfish reasons. This scripture is definitely a daily challenge to me to remain humble and check the reasons I do what I do at work, with my family and in my social life. God can only be glorified through us if we’re not taking the glory for ourselves.